The Crawl Space Foundation Area of Your Home
When inspecting houses, this is another area that is often full of surprises, shortcomings, and problems.
It is important to occasionally stick your head into this hidden area (preferably with a flashlight or floodlight and an old carpet or piece of plastic to lay on). This area overall and its components sit under your house, support it, and can have a significant negative impact if not monitored.
Here are some things you should be aware of and look for in a crawl space foundation.
You should not have to be a contortionist to enter. There should be no sharp edges, nails protruding, broken edges of concrete, etc. around the entrance opening and it should be large enough to enter.
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The area in the crawl space should have adequate room for one to crawl around without claustrophobia settling in. Preferably, there should be approx. 30-36” from the floor to the bottom of the framing.
The area should be free of debris, old stored items, deteriorating goods, broken glass, cobwebs, slime, filth, or whathaveyou.
Above all else, the area should be free of sitting or collecting water. A basic rule of thumb is; if the crawl space floor is lower than the ground level outside, some type of de-watering system should be in place such as a sump basket, interior drain tiles, or similar.
The perimeter outside walls should have operable vents that can be opened/closed with the seasons and also have integral bug screens. These vents need to be occasionally cleaned/lubricated and should not be permanently covered over or sealed from within. The venting should allow for a cross draft.
The interior dirt floor should be relatively level throughout with no low areas that can collect moisture or high areas that can prevent proper access.
This is an important item which is many times absent. The crawl space dirt floor should have a sheet of plastic completely covering it from wall to wall (preferably 9 mil or thicker). This plastic holds moisture beneath, discourages any type of growth, controls odors, etc.
INSECTS (OR OTHER VISITORS)
I’ll never forget a time when I bent down to look into an opened crawl space access and a pack of dogs ran out. Another time I opened the access door and insects came out faster than I could turn away. Or the time I turned my flashlight on and there were reflective eyes looking back at me (raccoon). These areas need to be tightly closed and occasionally treated for insects.
All plumbing pipes, heat ducts, dryer vents, etc. running through this area need to be maintained, secure, and connected. I have been in crawl spaces where the dryer vent pipe was disconnected for a long time and there was lint hanging everywhere (which is considered a fire hazard). I recently was at a house where I was walking the outside perimeter and felt substantial cold air coming out of a crawl space vent. Upon investigation, I found some of the ductwork had come apart and when the a/c was running, it ran right into the crawl and out the vents.
No electrical wires should be hanging down and there should be no missing cover plates. I have seen plumbing leaks go on forever undetected which has caused odor, encourage mold/mildew, and has impacted the wood framing. If possible, always look under bath and kitchen areas to see if there is any evidence of leaking.
Any penetration leading through the crawl space foundation wall from the exterior to the interior should be sealed or caulked tightly (gas lines, hose faucets, a/c lines, etc.). None of these penetrations should be located where they are below the outside grade (such as the crawl space vents or the access door). If these openings are below grade, they can allow rain or groundwater to enter the crawl.
The perimeter of the crawl space and center support piers are to be in good structural condition. There should be no substantial cracks, heaving, movement or similar.
Just remember, this hidden area must be visited regularly to discourage problems that can go undetected. So, put on your knee pads, check your flashlight and get down on your knees and take a look within. Hopefully, you will not encounter any surprises.